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Movie Review: 'Black Death'

Christopher Smith's 14th century period chiller, named for the continent-spanning pestilence that notoriously wiped out half of Europe, isn't exactly an upper.

March 11, 2011|By Robert Abele

It won't shock you to learn that British director Christopher Smith's 14th century period chiller "Black Death" — named for the continent-spanning pestilence that notoriously wiped out half of Europe — isn't exactly an upper.

Grimly imagined by screenwriter Dario Poloni and grimily, monochromatically photographed by Sebastian Edschmid, this horror-infused yarn sets a band of battle-weary English knights on a church-sanctioned quest to find a village rumored to be untouched by the plague. This being a time of apocalyptic superstition, God-fearing man-of-the-sword Ulric (Sean Bean) believes unholy forces must surely be behind such a place, and dealt with violently.

The marshy, peaceful commune they find (run by a bewitchingly hospitable Carice van Houten) holds some faith-shattering surprises, especially for young, liberal monk Osmund (Eddie Redmayne).

Early on "Black Death" falls victim to its own sluggish sickness, its narrative drive proving no match for the aggressively rotted pallor, dour acting and tiresomely handheld you-are-there aesthetics. But once the promised dramatic tension between pious warriors and ulterior-motivated pagans kicks in — and reaches its "Wicker Man"-esque apex — the film achieves its own provocative exploration of fundamentalism, and a gruesomely appropriate deliverance from the clutches of splotch-by-numbers movie gloom and doom.


"Black Death." MPAA rating: R for strong brutal violence and some language. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.

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